Tips for evaluating cloud-based supply chain management software

  • August 08, 2014
  • Feature

By Chuck Fuerst, HighJump Software

There’s a lot of discussion around cloud-based supply chain management software: Is it right for my company? Are all cloud-based solutions pretty much the same? Can the software change and evolve with my business? Cloud-based supply chain management solutions are relevant and helpful to companies of all sizes and verticals. Their flexible nature, lower upfront cost and no need for in-house IT expertise make them ideal for many businesses, especially those that are quickly growing and gaining complexity. Although capabilities vary, the basic structure of a cloud-based service is essentially consistent: a vendor hosts the software application and hardware infrastructure, and the customer accesses the services via a Web browser. The customer gains the functional benefits of the system without the upfront cost, the need for servers or the increased workload for its IT team. And because the cloud is elastic and scalable, you can access more power when seasonal changes or spikes in demand call for it. When is the cloud right for you? Cloud computing had a reputation for being a small-company solution, but not anymore: A best-of-breed, flexible cloud-based software can work for any size or type of business. In fact, the cloud is particularly helpful for fast-growing manufactures that are becoming more and more complex as they grow. A cloud-based solution can provide as much power as you need while optimizing efficiency. And because cloud applications are elastic and scalable, a customer can simply “plug in” to the data center and access power quickly to accommodate seasonal spikes, changes in demand or an expanding operation. For a small or mid-sized company, a cloud-based supply chain solution allows you to get up and running without a huge capital investment. In addition, your IT team may not be the right size and/or not have the relevant expertise for effectively managing and maintaining an on-premise solution. Because of its subscription model, cloud-based software leaves the infrastructure to the infrastructure experts and allows you and your IT team to focus on business operations - not technical upgrades and maintenance. Evaluating capabilities If you’ve determined that your business will benefit from cloud-based supply chain management software, be sure you are aware of the technical aspects that are best for your business and discuss these with your potential vendor. Any supply chain management service in the cloud – such as a warehouse management system, performance management system or manufacturing execution system – needs to be closely evaluated so it can give you the biggest return on investment possible.

  • Is it flexible? A cloud-based service is only helpful if it’s packaged in a way that is relevant to your needs. For instance, HighJump® cloud-based Warehouse Advantage is a warehouse management system with a flexible architecture that can adapt to your company’s needs today and that can easily be adapted to future changes. Without the need for source code modifications, this type of architecture will be one of the most important features for ensuring that your investment lasts for years and not months.
  • How easily can it grow with your company? The functionality of the service should be able to scale up or down depending on business needs, giving you access to more functionality and resources during spikes in operation or dialing back power during quieter times.
  • How will the vendor safeguard your data, especially in the event of a disaster? How frequently is data backed up and how will it be accessed if the system goes down? A vendor that offers a redundant architecture – one that does not have a single point of failure – will be best equipped to handle possible downtime or data loss by offering a secondary system to continue operations. In your service agreement, ask for a guarantee as to how fast the vendor will get you back up and running if the primary system goes down. Inquire about service level agreements around Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO); these are important parameters of a disaster recovery or data protection plan.
  • What does your network infrastructure look like? A cloud-based service is delivered over the internet, so you will need a strong network. Make sure your internet provider offers redundant network paths so that in the event that one connection fails, you can switch to the other and avoid system downtime.

Evaluating a vendor Just as you closely evaluate system capabilities, so too must you evaluate the vendor’s dedication to your system, their willingness to be flexible to your needs, as well as their track record in the market. Consider the following when determining how far a vendor will go to help you achieve your business objectives:

  • Does the vendor provide an on-premise and cloud option built on the same source code? If the cloud-based solution’s functionality and R&D investment are focused on the same source code as the on-premise solution, that will be a huge benefit to you because you will enjoy the same product enhancements, upgrades and new features regardless of which deployment model you have. But if not, your cloud-based selection may be more limited because the vendor is spreading development resources across multiple code bases.
  • Do you need all of the bells and whistles right away, or can you scale the solution with the growth of your business? This is an especially important question for small and mid-sized companies that are sometimes oversold on all of the capabilities up-front. Consider the features you need to quickly deliver an ROI, and know whether your vendor and service are flexible enough to deliver new functionalities when your business expands and needs change.
  • Has the vendor demonstrated the ability to respond, change direction and be flexible as customer needs evolve and market dynamics change? Make sure you leverage a combination of publicity, thought leadership, and most importantly, customer references when validating the reputation of the vendor.

With a solid understanding of both the solution’s capabilities and the vendor’s commitment to and plans for your system, you can feel confident about your investment and how it will improve your operations. Make the cloud a competitive advantage A rapidly changing marketplace, often dictated by the latest consumer trend, government regulation or impacted by factors outside of our control, is the new normal. The benefits of cloud-based supply chain management software can turn a company’s logistics operation into a competitive advantage: From configurations that address exact business requirements to the ability to grow with a company without extra work for the IT team, the right software based on a strong technical foundation from a visionary vendor will address your business needs now and deliver an ROI far into the future. Author bio: Chuck Fuerst is director of product strategy at HighJump Software. He has more than 15 years of experience in the technology market, working for supply chain and ERP software companies to deliver innovative solutions. Chuck is responsible for monitoring industry and technology trends and identifying ways to enhance value for HighJump customers.

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